ACP Meeting at Marianella, Orwell Road on Tuesday December 13th 2011

ACP Meeting at Marianella, Orwell Road on Tuesday December 13th 2011


55 priests from the Archdiocese of Dublin and the Diocese of Meath met in Marianella on December 13th 2011. Fr. Tony Flannery opened the meeting at 3pm with a prayer to the Holy Spirit.
This was a very lively meeting, with vigorous and strongly held views expressed by many of those present.  It would be impossible to give a full account of all that was said, so what follows is a brief summary. Suffice it to say that this meeting was the best indication yet that the Association is providing a forum which gives a voice to priests.
PrimeTime Investigates
Seán McDonagh gave a brief account of the way in which the ACP had helped Fr. Kevin Reynolds, who was libelled in a Prime Time Investigates programme entitled Mission to Prey which was broadcast on May 23rd 2011.  The ACP was commended by the meeting for taking this initiative, particularly since neither bishops nor religious superiors seem willing to take this type of stand on behalf of their priests.
This was followed by a discussion about the new guidelines for “stepping down” a priest against whom “credible” allegations have been made. There was a lot of uneasiness express about the present practice, in so far as it seems in some cases to suggest that the priest is guilty before he has any chance to defend himself. The letter sent by the ACP legal team requesting a meeting with the bishops was read out to the meeting, and was received with approval.
The Experience of one who has left the ministerial priesthood
Donal Harringon, a former priest of the Diocese of Dublin, addressed the group about his experience of leaving the ministerial priesthood.  He was ordained in 1979, and continued in ministry until 1997.  During his time as a priest, Donal was widely recognised for his expertise in theology, and his work in helping to restructure and develop new ministries to enrich parish life.  He has also written widely on pastoral theology and pastoral care.
He told the meeting that on leaving the ministerial priesthood many priests were still very supportive of him, and invited him to continue to exercise his particular charism in their parishes, particularly in the area of parish development. There was less support from bishops. These were the contrasting experiences he had, and he was grateful to the priests for their support. But at the official level he met with a lot of opposition. He also highlighted problems with the laicisation process.  Among the conditions attached to laicisation, he told us, was that the individual was forbidden to take any role in the pastoral ministry of the Church, not even as a Minister of the Eucharist or a Reader of the Word.  The reason he was given was that it might cause scandal. As a result he, and others like him, feel that they have a lot to give, but are upset and saddened by the few opportunities they are given to exercise ministry.  In the context of the present crisis in ministry, this attitude towards ‘laicised’ priests is very regrettable. No other organisation would spurn such talent.
Tim Murphy responded to Donal’s comments by saying that such talent and experience were not being availed of because of a rigid ideological approach to the understanding of the ministerial priesthood.  He felt that the ACP should take up this  issue with the bishops so that any ‘laicised’ priest who is willing to serve in ministry would be received with open arms, and not turned away as is often the current practice.
The rapid decline in the number of priests and the rights of Catholics to the Eucharist.
This led on to a general discussion on the problems in ministry today. Padraig McCarthy said this matter should be raised in the run up to, and during the forthcoming Eucharistic Congress.  According to him we now have a situation where many Catholics are being deprived of the Eucharist became of a lack of priests and there are very few vocations to the current model of priestly ministry. History teaches us that there were, and are, other models of ministry whereby the Church can carry on the mission of Christ in the world.  Willie Cleary from the diocese of Meath concurred.  He said that he has experienced the wonderful gifts which people like Donal Harrington brought to animating parish life in the spirit of Second Vatican Council, where the whole Church, not just priests, were involved in sharing the Gospel of Christ and celebrating the great  mysteries of our faith.
All in all, there was strong support at the meeting for a serious look at the problems our present ministry policies are creating.
Low Moral and Lack of Support from Bishops
This was a strong part of the meeting, with some excellent, and very well expressed, contributions. It is clear that life is not getting any easier for the priests, particularly in Dublin diocese. Stress levels are increasing. The lack of support for priests was highlighted by many speakers.  It would appear that morale is low, certainly among some priests. Priests said they felt used, and not appreciated, as they struggled to cover a bigger work load than when they were young and energetic. Lack of any say in decision making does not help. People feel resentful when decisions are imposed on them without consultation. The New Missal was given as one of many examples of this. Listening to the meeting, it would appear there is a real problem in this area in the archdiocese.
One priest expressed it very strongly when he said that after much study he concluded that the most accurate term to capture the present employment position of priests vis-à-vis those in authority in the Hierarchical Church was the words – indentured labourers.  The way in which salary and pensions are dealt with contributes to this feeling of being indentured labourers, people whose rights are circumscribed at every turn. Another priest followed this by saying that it seemed to him that some within the higher echelons of the governing body of the archdiocese had “veiled contempt” for the ordinary diocesan priest.  A priest from the diocese of Meath spoke of the same type of frustration.
What is the current position on pastoral workers?
There would appear to be uncertainty about the security of employment for pastoral workers in Dublin, due to a shortage of money, as the funding for the scheme may run out in June 2012.  This was raised by some speakers who were concerned that the priests in the parishes will be blamed, if the scheme collapses, rather than those who designed the programme without fully thinking through all the implications, particularly financial, of the project.
A new concrete vision of Church
Another topic raised was the ACP initiative to hold an Assembly of the Church in May 2012.  A number of lay groups have shown an interest in this initiative and wish to be associated with it. As a result a planning day has been set for January 26th 2012.  Two people agreed to work on a paper which would encapsulate the vision of Church which we are trying to create in Ireland.  When this short paper is posted on our website anyone who wishes can add their wisdom to it, and in this way attempting to enhance the project of building a new, inclusive sense of Church in Ireland will contribute greatly to the wider society.
The meeting lasted for about one hour and forty five minutes. While some strong and critical things were said, it was a vibrant meeting, clearly imbued with a great sense of concern for the good of the Church and for the message of the Gospel.

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  1. Sagart BAC says:

    Not “veiled contempt”, just contempt; at this stage there is no attempt on the part of the overlords in Dublin, both clerical and lay, to hide how much they despise ordinary priests. Priests have no rights, or, if they do, they have no way to vindicate those rights. They are walked on by the powerful. It is disgraceful. The laity think the Leader is a caring, considerate man, but it’s a case of street angel, house devil – and that’s Archbishop’s House devil, by the way! For further evidence of this, see today’s Irish Times:

  2. Eddie Finnegan says:

    Among the initial objectives sounded out by the ‘founding fathers’ of the ACP, circa July 2010, was “the need to restore a positive relationship between bishops and priests” – which two months later was expressed as: “a culture in which the local bishop and the priests relate to each other in a spirit of trust, support and generosity.” A noble yet basic objective which we layfolk might think we could take for granted as a sine qua non, but whose achievement is obviously a two-way or three-way process which needs to be worked on.
    < >
    However frustrated or justified ‘Sagart BAC’ may feel, I suggest that at least part of his comment above is beneath contempt, veiled or otherwise. A Shagairt,masked protesters hurling abuse from behind website barricades earn no respect for what may well be a just cause. Diarmuid Martin’s strengths and failings are well rehearsed among laity, clergy and (no doubt especially) among his episcopal fellows. It may only be the media who see only his strengths. And no, the Patsy McGarry article linked to by ‘Sagart BAC’ does not give ‘further evidence’ for his assertions. There we see Fr Michael Collins of Haddington Road openly expressing valid grievances common to Dublin priests, illustrated through his own experience in recent years. Similar grievances were obviously expressed openly at Marianella (above) by Dublin and Meath priests.
    If, as Diarmuid Martin puts it, “you can’t be a mature Catholic in today’s world just on the basis of what you learned in primary or secondary school,” it seems to me that you can’t be a mature priest in Dublin or anywhere else just on the basis of what you may have been led to expect in Clonliffe or Maynooth in the glory days of yore. How a priest expresses his grievances openly and transparently in his association’s forum (an open public place)should indicate maturity and contribute towards improving that priest-bishop relationship.

  3. Association of Catholic Priests says:

    Comments by Brian Eyre (married priest, Brazil) on Donal Harrington’s address at Marinella)
    I can share with the feelings that Donal Harrington had on his experience of leaving the ministerial priesthood and the lack of support he got from the Bishops.
    After serving the church for 17 years here in Brazil I too was out on a limb when I asked for a dispensation from celibacy. Nobody in the diocese asked me where my next cup of tea was coming from or if I had any money to set up a home. Let justice be done though, my former congregation, the Holy Ghost Fathers, did help me when I first left and my relationship with it has always been the best. However the experience of being as poor as a church mouse was a very rich one as my wife and I discovered what it is like for most ordinary couples to try and furnish a home, and this brought us even closer. I remember receiving my first salary from my teaching job and with it we were able to buy a few of the basic things that you need in any home such as a kitchen table and chairs.
    That was 28 years ago. During this time we have lived in four different parishes. In each one I got on very well with the PP and was actively engaged in the parish, as I am now in our present parish. Thank goodness none of these PPs felt that I would be a cause of scandal and I can say too that most people have been very supportive of my pastoral work.This attitude is in stark contrast to the spirit of the document with relation to the process of laicization that I had to go through. The document says in article 3: “with regards to the celebration of the wedding of a dispensed priest it should be done with great care and without any pomp or exterior array”(there should be no flowers). Article 5 of the same document says: “the priest dispensed from celibacy ought to remain far away from the places where he previously worked and was known”. This Roman language and policy is inhuman, cruel and archaic.
    Donal suggests that this regrettable attitude should be taken up with the Bishops. Yes, this would be a positive move. However I do think that more could be done on the ground level. Even before approaching the Bishops I believe that any PP who has a married priest living in his parish could invite him to take a role in the pastoral ministry of his parish, that is to say, those married priests who still want to serve people and who have not lost their missionary spirit.
    There is no doubt that there are other models of ministry besides the current one of the priesthood and these models should be offered to future candidates to the priesthood as not everyone is called to be celibate.

  4. Kevin Walters says:

    Broken Dreams as strife is all it seems.
    When we start out on our conscious journey home to our Father’s house for some our expectations can be high and full of hope. If your conscious journey began at the time you wanted to be come a priest you would have wanted to serve Christ his flock gain converts to make a difference and to be appreciated by your flock Bishop and fellow priests In essence to be loved and give love.
    Where are the lamps
    Did no one tell you that the reality for all true lovers of Christ is that the journey is arduous. Even if we were told this when the spark in our heart’s was first ignited at the beginning of our journey which we were by Christ (before setting out take stock so as to be able to complete the journey). Our hopes and expectations carry us along we do not fully realize that the journey is of the heart, and this journey is one of Trust in Christ and him only No Other and that the path is the path of Truth.
    The truth is a burning fire it looks not at man’s desire
    Pope’s cower before it denuding power
    Bishop’s it mock’s Priest’s defrock
    Leader’s stand in disarray it’s all relative they say
    But honest it is not integrity is the loss
    The denial of goodness to make it dark is to lose one’s heart.
    To look into the living flame is to know one’s shame
    To bend one’s knee is to be set free
    The spark to become a flame in every mortal frame.
    You the Sheppard’s are to become as lamp’s
    Broken dreams can repair if with Christ we share
    We look within and acknowledge our own sin
    We bow are head’s as by the Master we are led
    With cleansing grace we start to see his face
    The air becomes clear as we relinquish fear
    Love and clarity of thought
    Is what are suffering will have bought
    As we stand by his side his peace reside
    We no longer struggle alone as The Master leads us home.
    Before the break of the new day
    Are lamp’s will light the way.
    God’s Word (Will) is manifest through his lovers
    God himself still speaks to mankind through his lover’s
    In Christ

  5. Eddie, if you had experienced what Sagart BAC or his colleagues have experienced under Diarmuid Matrin’s pastoral care of the clergy you might begin to understand the fear, trepidation and loathing that leads men to anonymity. The bishop has all the power and uses it, the clergy have none, save the toady sycophants who sacrifice their own integrity for the pathetic reward of ingratiation.

  6. Dear Brothers in Christ: What a joy it is to hear you raise your voices with such dignity. Let me suggest two relatively simple things.1) Have a current professor of Psychology from U.C.D., Trinity College, or Queen’s University explain carefully the dangers of passive/aggressive behavior.”House devil/street angel” is a very clear symptom of this societal disorder. It is both endemic and epidemic in the subcultures of ecclesiastical systems. It would be unfair to say that it is just a personality disorder. 2) I highly recommend a thoughtful reading of Dr. Barclay’s little book NEW TESTAMENT WORDS with particular emphasis on aiming for genuine KOINONIA that he describes. His approach is carefully articulated and certainly could not be seen as either a Protestant or Catholic, but rather as extremely useful in the building up of priestly fraternity in Ireland. May God Bless You in Your Journey.

  7. Mary Burke says:

    Mr Finnegan, a little less of your judgmental bile would ensure much more light and less heat on your part.
    When you are a position similar to the priest in question your utterances will be taken with some seriousness. Rant away but don’t be under the illusion that you are persuading people of the goodness of your arguments.
    The problem with the current diocesan system is that the clergy are dependent on their bishop’s goodwill for employment, housing and remuneration. If your head is in the lion’s mouth you are not going to challenge the lion’s take on any topic.
    Priests should be encouraged to become financially independent of the diocesan structure. Each should be encouraged to look for a mortgage as soon as possible after ordination – even if it meant taking out a thirty year mortgage. That way, the dialogue between clergy and their ordinary would be more of a dialogue of equals.

  8. Eddie,
    For what it’s worth, I thought your response to Sagart BAC was very appropriate. Surely referring to anyone as a house devil is absolutely unacceptable. Happy Christmas to you and yours, Eddie, and thank you for sharing all your words of wisdom with us in 2011. Happy Christmas and thanks also to Fr.S and to the Association of Catholic Priests of Ireland with every good wish and hope that the ACP will go from strength to strength in 2012.

  9. Mary Burke says:

    Paddy, ‘street angel’ and ‘house devil’ is metaphorical language. The post is not claiming that the person in question is either an angel or a devil. The figurative language conveys a sense (to use another metaphor) that there is one law for the Medes and another for the Persians. Mr Finnegan’s response about a contribution’s being beneath contempt is classic hyperbole and frankly, daft.
    Nollaig shona daoibh go léir!

  10. Hope you all had an enjoyable Christmas. Shall never forget my first Christmas Day, when, as a newly ordaimed (Thurles 1960), I sat with the Pallottine Provincial amd two other priests to eat our lunch. The occasion was sad and joyless, each man was lost in his own thoughts. Meanwhile, Annie, the housekeeper, sat alone in the basement kitchen. Afterwards, we climbed three flighrs of stairs to the PPs room to count the collections. I don’t think I ever recovered from that experience. After a short nap, I spent almost three hours in the Royal Free hospital, near King’s Cross, where I was chaplain. While I sat at the bedsides of individual patients,the Church of England man breezed in one door and exited another calling out” Merry Christmas everyone.”
    Do consider reading ” No Love Here” for more details.
    I wish you all many blessings in 2012.
    Martin Gordon
    p.s Sad to read of the death of Bishop Tom Finnegan.R.I.P. He was kind to me on one occasion, when I neeeded financial help.

  11. Kevin Walters says:

    You paint a bleak picture indeed
    Cold cup of cheer it appears no love here
    The title tells all
    I do not need to read the book as I already know its contents
    As all true lovers of Christ do, sin with all its different faces
    The harsh reality of following Christ was made crystal clear to you
    On your first Christmas in the priesthood,
    I am fully aware of how painful this must have been for you.
    The journey home to our Fathers house although different for each one of us in essence is the same
    We all walk in poverty, lack of Trust and sinfulness and the journey is arduous
    May you continue in your long journey home
    Be a light to others on the path, and arrive safely
    When I look back to the start my own journey home to our Fathers house
    And look into my own heart I can with honesty say no Love Here.
    May the light of the new born Jesus dwell in your heart
    Its radiance embellish itself within you
    And the gift of his joy, be yours.
    In Christ

  12. Mary Burke says:

    Martin, with all due respect this is not the forum to market your book.

  13. I would just like to know who the lay groups are who are interested in the Assembly you are planning for May ?

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